Boston Celtics' Kyrie Irving (11) looks to pass behind Indiana Pacers' Darren Collison during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, March 29, 2019, in Boston. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
The Boston Celtics tip off their series against the Indiana Pacers on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. at the TD Garden (watch it live on TNT), and the Celtics — like everyone else — are excited to have reached the point of the season by which everything will actually be judged when the summer rolls around.
1. The Celtics are 3-1 against the Pacers this season, and their lone loss came back in November when Victor Oladipo buried a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to sink Boston in the final seconds. Oladipo, of course, went down with a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee on January 24 — a devastating injury for an excellent young player who had assumed an entertaining role as the leader of the Pacers squad.
2. Much has been made about the way the Pacers hung on since Oladipos injury, but that was based on a stretch of games against weak opponents, after which many observers stopped paying attention while Indiana slipped significantly down the stretch.
3. Here are a few stats for evidence: Before Jan. 24, the Pacers had a net rating of 5.7. By way of comparison, the Celtics net rating since they changed the starting lineup on Nov. 24 is 4.8. Since January 24, the Pacers have a net rating of 0.2. On the road, that net rating plummets to -4.9. As it turns out, missing your best player makes a big difference.
4. The Pacers have not been able to do much with Kyrie Irving. Hes shooting 50 percent from the floor and 45 percent from 3-point range in four meetings with Indiana this season, and hes +12.3 — a significant jump from his +5 score overall.
Boston took three of four meetings this season, including two down the stretch in the regular season that helped them end up with home court advantage for this series. The Celtics are going to miss Smart, who is arguably their best defender and would have matched up against Bogdanovic on the offensive end of the floor. The Pacers stumbled down the stretch and they are facing a Boston team that is tough at home. The Celtics handled Indiana in the last couple matchups this season and that gives them the edge. Look for Boston to get the upper hand here to draw first blood.
5. Indianas biggest issue with Irving is similar to everyone elses: They have no real answer for him when he gets into the pick-and-roll with Bostons bigs, particularly Horford who commands attention out to the 3-point line. Indiana dropped bigs back in pick-and-roll coverage at times (which Irving abused), and they tried multiple defenders including Wes Matthews and Darren Collison (both of whom Irving abused). I genuinely dont know if Indiana has a sufficient answer for Irving to win.
6. Marcus Smarts absence might be the biggest storyline for the Celtics entering the postseason, especially given how well he matched up with Bojan Bogdanovic. For the season, Bogdanovic averaged 18 points per game on 49.7/42.5/80.7 shooting splits. Against the Celtics, Bogdanovics numbers drop to 13.5 points per game on 43.9/36.8/61.1 shooting splits (the free throws are probably fluky). Thats largely thanks to Smart, who made him visibly uncomfortable during the meetings between these teams. The Celtics will need to find some answers.
7. Jaylen Brown, who might very well get the start in Smarts absence, on Bogdanovic: Hes a really good player. So Im just trying to take his rhythm away and respect what he does best. Hes playing really well. This past year is probably one of the best years hes had in his NBA career. So I want to be respectful and at the same time I want to come out and be aggressive and take some of that rhythm away.
8. So who will start in Smarts place? Brown is a strong possibility. Our own John Karalis made an intriguing case for Semi Ojeleye, who brings size and defensive versatility and — perhaps most importantly — allows the Celtics to keep their rotations intact.
I think Semi is so valuable to our team,” Brad Stevens told Karalis. “And well see how it all plays itself out. Theres always something. You just have to be on your toes and everybodys gotta be ready.
Celtics: After an up-and-down season, the Celtics are just happy that the playoffs are finally here. Boston underachieved over the course of the regular season, as many expected them to run away with the East prior to the seasons start. However, injuries and chemistry issues took a toll on the team. Despite those struggles though, the Celtics still have the talent to come out of the East if they can all get on the same page as they move on in the East.
9. My case, however, would be for Gordon Hayward. Hayward — who has been excellent recently — has been a murderer with Bostons starting five. Lineups with Al Horford, Marcus Morris, Jayson Tatum, Irving and Hayward are (this is not a typo) +41.3 in 114 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass. Thats a comically elite number.
10. The Celtics, of course, recently replaced Morris with Aron Baynes in the starting lineup, and while the Horford, Tatum, Baynes, Irving and Hayward lineup doesnt have enough minutes together for a reasonable sample size, one can safely infer that replacing Morris with one of Bostons most devastating defensive players would still work quite well.
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11. Heres Aron Baynes on Bostons opportunity to play big against Indiana: Theyre going to come out, be physical. Thats playoff basketball, and were going to have answer it. Thats what was great about it last year – we all had a taste of it and we know what to expect. Last year is going to benefit us immensely at this time. Gonna be a dog fight, but thats what its about. It will be fun.
12. Per Cleaning the Glass, lineups with Horford at the four and Baynes at the five have a net rating of +18.3. Stevens has said repeatedly that the combination of Horford and Baynes only works against certain opponents, but the Pacers are one.
13. The Celtics also got good minutes out of Horford and Theis combinations against Indiana the last time the teams matched up.
Celtics vs Pacers Playoff Series Predictions
I think with Indiana, it makes total sense that theres going to be minutes where Horford and Theis play together, Horford and Baynes play together, right? Stevens said on Saturday. I just think you have to be big against those guys for spurts of the game at least. Theis has been really good because hes been on call. Hes like the guy that can sit the first two-and-a-half quarters, come in in the third and impact the game and play right away and impact the game. There might be a moment that Baynes gets in foul trouble and we have to play Horford and Theis more minutes together, and thats something I feel really comfortable with. They complement each other. Als ability to play inside and out gives us a great deal of flexibility to play other bigs with him.
14. In his last five games, Gordon Hayward has averaged 18.4 points on 63.5/38.5/87.5 shooting splits.
15. Haywards last five games matter despite the tiny sample size. Hes clearly more comfortable, and he has punished both opposing bench units and starters alike with his ability to get into the paint and finish in recent weeks. In his last 15 games, Hayward has a net rating of 5.5. His (literally) perfect shooting performance against the Pacers in the final meeting between the two teams summed things up well: At the perfect time, Bostons highest-paid player has started performing like a max option.
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Its the reason why I came to Boston, Hayward said on Thursday. “So I think it will be a great atmosphere for sure playing in the Garden in the playoffs. And Im really excited.
You look at it, and Im blessed, Brown said. Three years in the league, all three years making it to the playoffs and two back-to-back ECFs, so Im feeling comfortable. Im feeling experienced. But at the same time Im feeling hungry. Two years of coming up short and Ive got a void to fill so Im looking forward to this postseason.
18. Heres Irving on the start of the postseason: Im just ready to get started. Its been a long time trying to get back to this point. Its been a year in my career where Ive learned a lot about my body. Over the last year, getting two knee surgeries and a nose surgery. Really setting goals for myself, and I just have a genuine love for the game and just want to be back to this point, playing at the highest level. Stats go out the window, everything else in terms of what has happened and transpired throughout the regular season goes out the window. Its just like everything is about the true essence of basketball. Nothing else about the drama or extracurricular stuff. Im excited to be focused on the game and actually talk about basketball instead of sensationalism. Im just happy about that.
Losing Marcus Smart hurts but the Celtics have the talent to make up for it. Ultimately, though, we can cut through all the hyper-focus of the past few days and boil this series down to this: Boston has Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, the two best players in this series, and if Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown all play up to their capabilities.
Karalis then hit the enter button accidentally on Slack, which is a rookie mistake. He continued:
Ive been low on Bostons playoff chances in the past, but the re-emergence of Gordon Hayward combined with Indianas recent struggles give me little reason to believe in the Pacers. Next year — when Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner are a year older, and Oladipo returns to the court — they could be a problem. This season, I just dont see it against the Celtics, particularly since Indiana is bad on the road.
It’s no secret that when it comes to the NBA playoffs, matchups can mean everything. In theory, an NBA playoff series can be considered a glorified chess match, each piece serving a greater purpose, but a specific role.
Q&A with Indy Cornrows
The Indiana Pacers will take on the Boston Celtics this weekend in what will be the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Heading into the season, both teams had high hopes for what they could accomplish. However, inconsistency by the Celtics throughout the entirety of the season has caused the team to constantly shift its approach. For the Pacers, their season took a dramatic turn due to the injury to Victor Oladipo in January.
As a result, the Pacers had to adjust on the fly. Luckily, the depth of the Pacers roster coupled with the group of men that make its infrastructure, the team displayed resiliency and cohesion that have allowed it to earn a playoff berth. This has forced the Pacers to identify their specific roles which in return have provided a foundation for what matchups the team can exploit in the first-round bout against the Celtics.
An old bull versus a young calf. Unfortunately, for the Celtics, they will be without shooting guard Marcus Smart for the first-round due to a torn oblique. Smart’s injury forces Brown into the starting lineup.
Brown has only played thirteen games this season for the Celtics at shooting guard so the veteran Matthews will need to attack this matchup. Over the course of his career, Matthews has developed into a well-rounded shooter. Matthews can find his shot from multiple spots on the floor. It will be important for Matthews to be active on the offensive side of the floor to make Brown work hard and defend.
Not only can Matthews exploit Brown offensively, but the defensive prowess of the Pacers shooting guard has the potential to cause some problems for Boston. Brown isn’t as dynamic as Matthews on offense, therefore an aggressive approach on defense can wreak havoc against the Celtics guard.
It’s unfortunate for the Celtics that the injury to Smart hurts the foundation of their roster. It could have a domino effect that forces Marcus Morris to play more minutes at the 4 than he normally would. This presents an intriguing matchup for Thad Young to exploit.
Young is the Swiss Army Knife for the Indiana Pacers; he can do it all. Whether it’s scoring at a high-level, rebounding or making the right play instead of the first play, Young brings a multitude of skills to the table.
On the other hand, Morris, who has shown flashes, is more one-dimensional. Morris has a post-presence; however, he can’t stretch the floor (anymore, he was a great shooter pre-All-Star break) or defend at the rate of Young. Young should look to wear Morris out over the course of this series. Working inside-and-out of the paint, while bringing energy to every possession, Young has the potential to give the Pacers an edge in his ability to exploit Morris.
A battle of the sixth-man. Sabonis has had the best year of his career this season, for Hayward, that is certainly not the case. Hayward has struggled to find a rhythm coming off missing an entire season due to injury.
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Hayward has had flashes, especially of late, but nothing to warrant any concern for Sabonis. Sabonis’ game is founded on his ability to be relentless during every minute on the floor. This can give Hayward trouble as he looks to make his first playoff appearance since his 2016-17 campaign.
Hayward is a tremendous player, one who will hopefully return the all-star game someday, but this season just hasn’t quite shown enough to be a constant threat. On the other hand, Sabonis has molded himself into one of the best sixth-men in the league.
Sabonis has been productive on a nightly basis which is substantially important in a seven-game playoff series. Sabonis has a diverse game. Not only does he score but he also passes and rebounds. Sabonis is a throwback player, and those types of players thrive on the game’s biggest stage, the playoffs. Hayward has had flashes, but coming off the bench, the Pacers have the advantage over the Celtics due to Sabonis’ potential to exploit Hayward.
NBA Playoffs 2019: Celtics vs. Pacers Game 1 live stream: Watch online
This first-round battle between the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics will be interesting, to say the least. For a Celtics ball club who has everything to lose, the Pacers have the ability to dwindle their opponent’s confidence. Arguably two of the best head coaches in the league will also be going head-to-head. The Pacers versus Celtics series will be a chess match that includes strategy and preparation.
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Celtics vs. Pacers odds, Game 1: 2019 NBA Playoff picks, predictions from proven model on 76-59 roll
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